North County man dives deep into historic shipwreck

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VISTA, Calif. – A North County man is helping to reshape naval history.

Historian Parks Stephenson helped discover the deepest known shipwrecks in the world in April. Now, he’s learning how it sank and who went down with the ship.

“I’ve been working on this every day,” he said of his research over the past two months since returning home from the trip. “I’ve spent almost 200 hours.”

Putting together a 3D rendering that shows where the ship got hit and in what order, he hopes to figure out how it ended up on the ocean floor in the Philippine Trench, the deepest part of the ocean.

“I want to tell one story about what happened on USS Johnston’s final hours,” he said.

The ship sank in October 1944 off the coast of the Philippines during the Battle off Samar which was part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Naval History and Heritage Command records show.

It happened when a small group of U.S. ships were unexpectedly engaged by 23 Japanese vessels. Outnumbered, Cmdr. Ernest Evans turned the Johnston toward the Japanese and engaged, hoping to buy the other American ships time to get away.

Nearly 190 crew members died when the ship sank that day. The ship hadn’t been spotted since.

Stephenson was part of a group from Caladan Oceanic, an undersea technology company, that “re-located, surveyed and filmed” the wreckage earlier this year, providing all findings to the Navy to disseminate at its discretion.

Now with Parks’ renderings, families of sailors who died can understand exactly how the ship sank.

“The fact that you and your organization have done what you’ve done, I can’t tell you what it brings to my family,” said Spencer Cannon, whose uncle Abraham Hugh Cannon served on the ship. “Now to know exactly where my uncle’s final resting place is, it’s emotional to think about now where he was when his ship went down.”

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